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‘Butcher of Bosnia’ Ratko Mladić to serve life term for 1995 genocide as UN upholds ruling

A UN court dismissed the former Bosnian Serb commander’s final appeal against convictions for genocide and crimes against humanity.

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New Delhi: Former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladić is set to serve life imprisonment after a UN court dismissed his final appeal against convictions for genocide and crimes against humanity Tuesday.

The 78-year-old, known as “the Butcher of Bosnia”, had played a key role in the ethnic cleansing and civil war that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. He now joins ex-Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic, his former political master, in serving a life sentence.

The verdict by a five-judge bench at the UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals at The Hague upheld the decision of a lower tribunal and rejected Mladic’s appeal. The judgment marks the last Bosnian genocide trial before the court.

Convicted in 2017, Mladić faced 10 convictions involving extermination, forcible transfers, terrorism and attacks on civilians. In 1995, he led Bosnian Serb forces in killing over 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica.

The ruling was welcomed by US President Joe Biden. In a statement Tuesday, he said, “This historic judgment shows that those who commit horrific crimes will be held accountable. It also reinforces our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world.” 

Meanwhile, UN’s human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the verdict highlighted “the determination of the international justice system to ensure accountability no matter how long it may take — in Mladić’s case, nearly three decades after he committed his appalling crimes”.

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1992-95 Bosnia civil war

Yugoslavia, a Socialist state created after World War II, was a federation of six republics. It brought together Serbs, Bosnian Muslims, Albanians, Croats, Slovenes and others. 

Calls for more autonomy within Yugoslavia emerged in the 1990s and ethnic tensions grew. By January 1992, Yugoslavia ceased to exist and began to dissolve into its constituent states.

Bosnia consisted of Serbs, Muslims and Croats but Serbs were a minority. Karadzic, leader of Bosnia’s Serbs at the time, threatened war if Bosnia’s Muslims and Croats broke away. 

After the 1992 Bosnian independence referendum confirmed the secessionist bid, a war broke out, leaving about 1 lakh people dead. Serbs carved out a large territory for themselves and over a million Muslims and Croats were driven from their homes in ethnic cleansing. 

The US, under the Bill Clinton administration, decided to intervene in August 1995. A peace accord known as the Dayton Agreement was signed in December 1995 ended the conflict.

The modern state of Bosnia and Herzegovina includes the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Republika Srpska. The Federation is majorly Bosniak (Muslims) and Croat (Catholics) and the Republika is Serb (Orthodox).

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